Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A bittersweet Christmas story

EDITOR'S NOTE: From time to time we hand deliver chocolate for our customers. Dad recently rushed from his busy schedule at the cooking room over to a local Cub Scout meeting to deliver a very special box of candy as a Christmas surprise. My sister Susanne gives a brief recap below. Merry Christmas.

About a week ago Joe Kalisek, a Ranger in the U.S. Army, contacted us at Anderson's via email.

He is stationed in Afghanistan and asked if we would deliver a box of chocolates to his wife at a local Cub Scout pack meeting since he could not do it himself.

Although Joe previously thought that he would be able to come home for Christmas, he recently learned that he will not be coming home until spring.

To help his wife Ivy cope, he wanted us to surprise her with a personally delivered present and message from him.

Leif, my dad, just so happens to have three sons in the same Cub Scout pack as Ranger Joe so, of course, he said yes! (And definitely would have even if his sons had not been at the same meeting.)

It was a very emotional experience for all of us -- Dad gets teary eyed while presenting the candy to Ivy.

And, with Joe's permission, we video taped the moment to share.

Here's a video clip of dad presenting Ivy, with her gift.

Ivy, we are so sorry that you have to be away from your husband this Christmas.

We hope those chocolates remind you how much you are loved.

And Ranger Joe, we thank you for your service and wish you a safe and speedy return home!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Understanding the real magic

EDITORS NOTE: Today's entry is from my sister Susanne Anderson (pictured at right). She writes about transitioning into a fulltime role at Anderson's Candy Shop and how the move has given her a new perspective on the magic that happens inside 10301 Main Street. I think that the second half of this entry really describes what it feels like when you grow up into a family business.

I’m going to be honest with everyone right now, and it might hurt a little: growing up in a chocolate factory is nothing like what you saw in that Willy Wonka movie.

Ok, ok, it sort of is, but not in the way you might think. There are no chocolate rivers, no psychedelic boat rides and no little people that produce the chocolate – though sometimes, it’s true, we do break out in song.

No, these things don’t exist, but growing up here, it did feel like magic.

Just walking through the cooking room (aptly named, for this is where all of the caramel, cream and other candy centers are cooked) was enchanting.

There was always a cook, whether it was my father, my uncle or one of the various assistant cooks, stirring a huge, boiling batch of sugar turned into something even more delicious.

I didn’t know as a child exactly what everything was, but I loved watching the process. Dad pour boiling sugar out onto a cool marble and somehow – somehow – this turned into the caramels and fudges and peanut butter creams I loved so much.

Then there was the molding room (aptly named, for this is where all of the molded chocolates are made). I often saw my grandmother here, tapping the bubbles out of the chocolate after it had been poured into the bunny rabbit or Christmas tree shaped molds, and then trimming the excess chocolate off of the edges once the chocolate had hardened.

If I brought my friends to this room for a tour they always marveled at the large cylindrical melters holding hundreds of pounds of chocolate.

The packing room (where all of the chocolate pieces get packed into boxes) is probably the closest thing to Willy Wonka that we have. It is an entire room filled with chocolates just waiting to be consumed.

As a child, I didn’t understand the complicated business my elders were part of, but I did know this place was spectacular -- not only because what we made was delicious and unique, but because being here meant family.

The candy store often culminated everything a child could want: loving people making delicious, beautiful treats that you often got to eat.

I am not a child any longer. And over the past year, I have begun to work at the store much more to learn about this place in a new way.

I can now transform those boiling kettles of sugar and make melty chocolate into molded rabbits and snowflakes and more.

And although this means that there isn’t magic here for me anymore, my eyes have been opened to something else. I now see all of the hard work that every employee puts in, and I see the lasting effects of a lifetime of hard work from those before us.

Throughout my entire life, my father has been incredibly passionate about this business and these chocolates and until now, I have not understood how a person can stay so passionate for so long about the same thing.

But, when you are a part of every piece of the process from purchasing supplies to cooking, to packaging and selling – how can a person not become emotionally involved?

And I finally, do understand just how superior our products are. Every caramel batch, for instance, is tested by hand. By hand! That means we don’t just cook our caramels to a certain degree and say, “Eh, they’re good enough.” We test every single batch of candy before it is even completed to make sure our product is the absolute best it can possibly be.

Now I’ve caught myself going into seller mode – but that’s the thing I’ve realized. When my father speaks about the candy shop with such fervor that it sounds like he’s trying to sell one person the whole business, not just a caramel bar, it’s because he so completely believes in what we do here.

And that’s true for all of the people that work here. Now, including me.

We might not have the magic that Willy Wonka has, but we certainly have the same drive and the passion for our trade, and for producing something that will delight others.

Today, when I see my three little brothers here at the candy store, it harkens me back to my childhood and how magical this place can be.

It the dream of all three of my brothers to work at the candy shop when they are older and I hope that one day they can be where I am now, looking at this business not just from the perspective of a child who believes in magic, but from the perspective of an adult who is amazed at learning how much life goes into the production of a small piece of chocolate.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A cute, sneaky, customer story

Editor's note: Here at the candy store in Richmond, Illinois we get hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters each year from costumers who give us a little snapshot into what happens to our candies once they leave 10301 Main Street.

It is these stories that brighten our day and inspire us to continue to produce candy like the generations before us always did.

In this post I'll share a few examples of the kind of feedback we get.

The smiling woman in the photo below is the owner of Toom Toom Thai restaurant in Elgin, Illinois. She posted a photo of herself smiling with a box of our candies after she received the treats as a Thank-You gift from a customer.

To see another particularly cute upload visit our Facebook page. (You'll find an adorable young customer in Colorado enjoying a chocolate Easter bunny.)

During the past year, in fact, Facebook has become one of our favorite ways receive feedback. To round out this post, I'll share with you what is probably my favorite Facebook share this year.

The story is from a customer who has enjoyed Anderson's Candy since her childhood in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

Her name is Amanda Glauser Schneegass and she wrote to us this fall about her sneaky 80-year-old father.

"My Dad received two, one-pound boxes of your candy for his Birthday from me last week," she said.

"He lives in Michigan and called to say he shared the first box with my Step-Mom, BUT he has 'stashed' the second box in his sock drawer." Amanda continued. "She doesn't know about this box and I don't think he will be sharing this with her."

Amanda later wrote that her father is very, "bipartisan" when it comes to his favorite candies.

It turns out that he grew up in Ringwood, Illinois and got married to my Amanda's mom in 1956.

The couple had two daughters lived in Crystal Lake for 32 years before retiring to Michigan.

"I'm not sure exactly when he was first introduced to Anderson's Candy, BUT, I remember him driving us to your shop when it was just the one room store front when we were very young," Amanda wrote.

"It was a treat for us and we were thrilled getting to pick a BIG piece of candy for each of us," she said.

In case it wasn't clear from this post, we LOVE feedback! Share your stories with us in the comments section below or email AndersonsCandyShop@gmail.com.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Resisting temptation

When people find out that I am part of a family that has been making chocolate candies for four generations, they always ask some version of, "Do you ever get sick of the chocolate?"

The answer is NEVER.

I have been sneaking, snacking and gorging myself on our candy since I was a little girl.

In fact, it is actually hard for me to understand when customers tell us that they can make a box of our candy last a whole month in their house.

Not because it won't stay fresh that long, but because I would simply devour all of it right away.

When I am at the candy shop in Richmond, I frequently "taste test" a few pieces of candy while working. All of our employees are actually encouraged to do this from time to time in order to ensure quality.

Recently however, my ability to use restrain when it comes to eating our chocolate has been tested – at home.

I brought home to my sweetie (pictured with me above) a six-piece box of his favorite candies.

Four days ago, there were three milk chocolate Buttered Rum Truffles and three milk-chocolate-covered cherries.

Today, there are two Buttered Rum Truffles and two chocolate-covered cherry pieces still left in the box!

While I know I should be happy that he is choosing to savor his favorite candies, I can't help but be a bit annoyed by the sweet, rich treats that he is leaving out to taunt me each morning.

Recently on our candy shop Facebook page, we heard a delightful story from a woman who's father is a candy saver, too.

In our next post, we'll share her story. It warmed our hearts and gave us a chuckle and we hope you like it, too!

And, as always, if you've got a question for the family or an Anderson's Candy Shop story of your own to share, post a comment below or email me, Katie Anderson, at AndersonsCandyShop@gmail.com.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A happy (delicious) accident

Welcome back to a special edition of Chocolate Chat. Today's entry is from third-generation candy maker (my Dad) Leif Anderson. He shares the story of how an accident in the cooking room brought about a new type of candy. It is Dad's first stab at a blog entry and I think he did great! Let me know what you think.
Blog editor, Katie Anderson

It's funny sometimes how discoveries are made.

While researching the flu in 1928 Alexander Fleming noticed that a blue-green mold had infected one of his petri dishes - and killed the bacteria growing in it. Viola! Penicillin was discovered.

Just a few months ago, I myself made an exciting accidental discovery – albeit it probably will not be as world-changing as Mr. Fleming's.

A new cook and I were making a batch of Raspberry Mallow – a layer of homemade marshmallow over a layer of raspberry jel. Yes, we also homemake the jel, using real raspberries and real raspberry extract.

My assistant cook became distracted listening to the radio and forgot to add the raspberry flavor to the jel.

I decided to add the flavoring to the marshmallow itself instead and see if that boosted the flavor enough to save the batch.

It did! It also reminded me that I had been wanting to find time to experiement with a way to make our own marshmallows for use in our boxes of individual chocolate dipped candies.

When the Raspberry Mallow batch was done, we had a little extra of the flavored marshmallow left and so we poured that into a separate pan and prepared it to be cut up into small cubes and dipped in chocolate. We then let it loose in our store this June for a test with all of you!

The new raspberry-flavored marshmallow pieces were available for sampling in our store for about a month and many of you requested that we send you a taste of the new treat along with your mail orders this summer.

You made the creation a hit and Raspberry Marshmallow is here to stay.

I guess whomever first said, "I'd rather be lucky than good," knew what he was talking about.

But that shouldn't surprise me too much, the Raspberry Marshmallow incident isn't the first time Lady Luck visited our cooking room. But I'll save that story for another day.

Leif Anderson

The Anderson family can be reached at AndersonsCandyShop@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A sweet lesson

Welcome back to Choclate Chat. Today's entry is from fourth-generation candy maker Susanne Anderson. She shares the story of how a mischievous little girl learned how to take care of chocolates.
Like a great piece of candy her story delivers immediate gratificatin and keeps you coming back for more! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Blog editor, Katie Anderson

When I was little – think grade school – my absolute favorite piece of chocolate from the Candy Shop was Buttercream. A thick, moist, vanilla cream that delighted my tongue with a burst of sugar. I ate it only in milk chocolate. Dark chocolate was yucky.

By the time I was in grade school I had become quite a thief. I would sneak around, thinking myself very, very stealthy, and steal little pieces of this and little pieces of that and lots and lots of Buttercreams.

I realize, now, that everyone probably knew and no one probably cared that I taste tested so many ingredients and quality checked so many pieces of chocolate, but at the time I thought I was quite sly.

The hardest things to steal were individual pieces of candy. They were, and still are, kept in blue and red boxes (for dark and milk chocolate),and are stacked four-high in shelves that start about three feet from the ground. Each box can be filled with at least two layers of chocolates and weighs about six pounds when full.

Three feet is not an astronomical height for a shelf. However, when you’re only four feet tall yourself, and you’re pulling a full box out from underneath a bunch of other full boxes, it can get tricky.

Today when I’m in this situation, my mind is fully concentrated on not dropping any of the boxes. When I was young? Well…

On one summer day when I had nothing better to do than engage in my stealth activities, I decided to go for my favorite piece: a Buttercream in milk chocolate. I initiated the usual attack, passing through the packing room, where pieces of chocolate are kept, a few times until the coast was clear and there were no employees in the room. Then I grabbed my chance.

I marched to the shelf that the red box of milk Buttercream sat on and took in the situation. It was the worst possible scenario: Buttercream was at the bottom. Three other boxes sat on top and the stack towered six inches over my head – but I didn’t panic.

I glanced to my left and right to make sure I was still alone and began to hoist the, at least, fifteen pounds of chocolate, up with my left arm. Then I grabbed the Buttercream box with my right hand, slid it from beneath the others and held it while I gently lowered the boxes in my left hand. I was going to get away with it!

But then – my arm lost its balance.

The box wobbled. It hit the packing table. The lid flew off and it all crashed to the floor.

Little chocolate-covered Buttercream pieces strewn everywhere under the packing table, and the shelf of chocolate, and rolling into the hard to reach corners of the room. I didn’t know what to do.

I thought about running and hiding, but I knew someone had to have heard the topple, so I just stood there, staring at the mess of chocolates on the floor.

When I finally came out of the trance it was for my uncle’s voice. He was the last person I wanted to see this. My dad? He would have taken pity on me. Told me it was OK and that next time I just needed to ask for help. He might have even cleaned it up for me. But my Uncle Lars, well, I didn’t think he would be so forgiving. And I was right.

“Well, here,” my uncle said, handing me a few small white boxes that we normally packed wrapping caramels in.

“Pick them up and put them in here. We can’t sell them now, but I don’t want you to throw them away.”

It should be noted that the Buttercream box, at the time of the spill, was completely full.

“You can’t eat anything else until you’re done.”

I spent the next three months eating nothing but milk chocolate Buttercreams. My boxes were kept in the chocolate packing room and everyone knew what happened so unless I wanted to risk another covert mission, I was stuck.

I ate, and ate, and ate Buttercreams.

At first, I tried eating them as fast as I could. I figured that the sooner they were gone, the sooner I could have a Krispy Rice or a Pudding or some Old Tyme Fudge or a chocolate covered pretzel or maybe a Peanut Fritter or anything except Buttercream. The possibilities were endless!

But my boxes of Buttercream were endless, too. And they weighed on me. I dreaded craving chocolate because I knew that the only thing there was to ease the craving was the useless, boring, bland, blah, plain old Buttercreams. And I ate, and ate, and ate the Buttercreams.

Then, one day, there was only one piece left.

I unceremoniously tossed it in the trash and was so excited that I finally got to eat something else that I just stood there staring at the boxes of choices. I had thought about this moment so much and now that it had come, I didn’t know what to pick.

Eventually, my eyes came to rest on Pudding, but not in my usual milk chocolate style. I reached instead for the blue box of dark chocolate Pudding pieces and thought, “Yes, this is it.” With the first chew I was in love. It was bitter and smooth and intense and it was everything that Buttercream was not.

I promised myself then that I would never ever eat another Buttercream.

Dear Uncle Lars,

This is probably not exactly the way this story happened. However, I was young and this is what my mind has decided happened all those years ago. I’m sorry you’re the villain in this story, but don’t worry, I’ve been very careful ever since.

You’ll also be happy to know that although I didn’t eat another Buttercream for years after this, it is now, again, one of my favorites.

Love, Your niece Susanne